The Mental Mountain

Shepherd University QB Jeff Ziemba

The mental mountain one has to climb to become a champion is very steep. Shepherd University starting QB Jeff Ziemba has scaled almost every inch of that mountain and can tell you what the rarefied air is like near the top. Ziemba led the Rams to an undefeated season in 2015 but failed to gain traction in the Division II National Championship game. The dream season was shattered with a 34-7 loss to top ranked Northwest Missouri State University.

Ziemba’s toughness at the end of the year showed how strong his will to win really is. Jeff was playing below 100% in the National Championship due to a big hit he took against Grand Valley State University in the semi-final. He suffered an AC sprain in his throwing shoulder and was taken out of the game in the first quarter. The Rams were able to overcome the loss of their leader and squeaked out a 34-32 victory.

I was definitely playing through a lot of pain. Every time I tried to move my arm it was very uncomfortable but this was the National Championship and there was no way I was going to sit out. My dad always told me to play through it and that pain is temporary.”

NW Missouri State didn’t hold back and blitzed Ziemba all game leading to 10 sacks and one interception. The prideful QB continued to fight on for his team throwing for 136 yards and 1 touchdown. As the confetti rained down on the champions the pain started to sink in for Ram Nation.

After a a long off-season the fifth-year senior is ready for his final climb and will use last year’s title game as motivation to get back to the top.

We had a great season and I couldn’t be more proud of the amazing run we were on. I think the way we got our butts kicked in the National Championship has the whole team motivated and excited to start this season. We have a lot of veteran players coming back with the same mindset. We made it and had a chance, now let’s go back and win this thing.”

Shepherd offensive coordinator Ernie McCookin, left, consoles quarterback Jeff Ziemba (11) late in the second half of the NCAA Division II Championship football game against Northwest Missouri, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Kansas City, Kan. Missouri defeated Shepherd 34-7. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Shepherd OC Ernie McCookin, left, consoles quarterback Jeff Ziemba (11) late in the second half of the NCAA Division II Championship (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Ziemba will be returning as the Rams starting QB for the fourth straight season and is coming off a career year. In 2015 he lit up the sky with 3,414 yards, 30 TDs and only 5 Ints. The Newark, DE native was named to the 2015 D2 All-American Team, First Team All-Mountain East Conference and MEC Offensive Player of the Year. This season Jeff is a pre-season First Team All-American and on the Harlon Hill Award watch list (D-2 equivalent of the Heisman).

Before anyone believed in Jeff Ziebma, he had to believe in himself. As a prospect coming out of St. Mark’s High School, he lacked the size recruiting coordinators were looking for. A couple D-3 schools were looking at him, but he had the belief that he could play at a higher level. After growing tired of being constantly overlooked by college scouts, Ziemba decided to show off his arm at showcases and combines. His performance got him noticed by Shepherd University who eventually invited him to campus for a workout. His potential earned him a spot on the team and a chance to compete at a good program.

When Jeff got to Shepherdstown, WV his mental toughness was tested again.

The transition into college was hard. I went into college at 6’2” and 154 pounds which is a struggle in itself. The distance from home and not knowing many people added to it. I called my mom and told her I wasn’t sure if I can do this.”

His parents, Kimberly and Jeff, encouraged him to stick with it and give it his all. As they always say, parents know best. Ziemba settled in and took advantage of his red shirt year.

I got a lot bigger and learned a lot about the game. Being the scout team QB that season helped me adjust to the speed of the game and taught me what throws I can and cannot make in comparison to high school ball.”

There was something else that fueled Ziemba’s drive to become the best football player he could be. During his recruiting experience Jeff and his father sent several tapes to Concord University, a rival school of Sheperd, but never heard back from them. When he committed to Shepherd, he knew he would get an opportunity to play Concord every year.

Jeff became a starter during his (RS) freshman season and hasn’t looked back since. His best performance always seems to come against the school that overlooked him. Over the last three seasons Ziemba is 2-1 vs Concord and has thrown for 915 yards, 7 TD’s and only 1 interception.

My Dad and I actually sent my highlights tape to Concord. They kind of brushed it under the table and rejected me. Every time I get a chance to play them I always remember that feeling and it definitely brings out my A-game.”

Concord isn’t the only team that has had trouble stopping Jeff Ziemba. He was one of the most efficient QB’s in the nation last year completing 235 of his 373 passing attempts. As good as he was last season, Jeff is always pushing himself to improve his game. He wants to eliminate the few mistakes he had last season and leave a legacy at Shepherd.

I want to be remembered as one of the most efficient passers to ever come through Shepherd. I threw five interceptions last season and that’s just not acceptable to me. I’d like to break some records but we’ll see where the season takes me.

Records shouldn’t be hard to break with the help of fellow senior Billy Brown. The All-American wide-out hauled in 89 of Ziemba’s passes last season for 1,492 yards and 10 scores. Ziemba and Brown have great chemistry and after one of the hottest camps in five years, they plan on setting the league on fire.

We will continue to follow Jeff Ziemba and the Shepherd Rams this season in their quest to win the National Championship. According to Jeff, their plan is to take it one game at a time, but it’s reasonable to assume Jeff has Homecoming vs Concord circled on his calendar .

Shepherd’s quest to finish what they started last year begins at home vs West Virginia Wesleyan this Saturday at 12 pm EST.

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1 Response

  1. Dave Buhrman says:

    Jeff, your story will inspire current and future (and old) Spartans! God Bless you and your team as you enter the season. We look forward to your continued success. It won’t be easy. The last easy day was yesterday. Military reference, but it applies here. Make your family and SMH proud! Dave. Class of 75.

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